Thursday, May 05, 2005

Eggheaded Birthdays

I don't want my own private birthday girl Lis Marks to be feeling left out, but I'm going to send her felicitations in private. And yet, above and beyond the delicious Lis, Cinco de Mayo just got hotter with two more birthdays... including another Marx, who just spells his name a little differently.

Karl Marx (left, above) was born this day in 1818, in Prussia (Germany). Marx was only 30 when he and Friedrich Engels published The Communist Manifesto... so what exactly have all of us been doing with our time? Page-per-pound, The Communist Manifesto is just about the quickest chute toward economic illumination and political consciousness you're ever likely to find. English translations, minus the invariable prefaces and appendices, run about 40 pages, and that's with large type, y'all; you can even read the whole thing at the link I posted up top. I'm not saying you're going to run out and buy a red flag, but if you haven't stopped to think about what capitalism actually is and what discontents it produces, this'll turn your head. Next, you graduate to Das Kapital, published in 1867, but I haven't hit that one yet either, so y'all will have to fill me in on that.

Marx passed in 1883, which means he had a good long life of rabble-rousing. Danish philospher Søren Kierkegaard (right, above), by contrast, only made it from May 5, 1813, to November 11, 1855. There is some poetic justice here, since so much of Kierkegaard's philosophy hearkens toward the beauty of living and art, the melancholy of trying to sustain or repeat these ecstatic experiences, and the cosmic dictum that carries us all from the human world into a higher, indescribable plane. If that sounds dry to you, his writing is a trip, not just because he is so taken with aesthetic pleasure and beautiful experience (Repetition is full of florid accounts of erotic love and of theatrical enjoyments), but because he largely rejected the form of the tract for a series of playful, oblique forms of writing. Again, to take the example of Repetition (another short book—see how much time I'm saving you?), the whole thing is written as an exchange between a humorously self-deluding pedant/advisor called Constantine Constantinus and a young male poet in the throes of love, who basically lives out the Wes Bentley line, "Sometimes there is so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it." Søren is not here to dictate what his book means to you, or even to imply how much of these letters are to be taken ironically, literally, foolishly, or humorously. Which means that your own tone and style of reading and interpretation is part of what the work is about, and that reading Repetition is consequently a ton of fun. Right up there with eating cake and blowing out candles.

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